Friday, December 12, 2008

Media needs its own open question page

By Libby Spencer

I wasn't at all surprised to see Ben Smith throw himself on the fainting couch over this, but I was surprised to see MoJo's Jonathan Stein join in the hand wringing over the "flaw" in the new Open Question page on the Obama transition site.

Notice something missing? The hot topic of the week, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, is absent. It's not because the American people are more substantively minded than the Blago-obsessed press. It's because Obama supporters using "Open for Questions" are using a tool on the site to flag as inappropriate any questions relating to the Illinois corruption scandal. The submissions about Blagojevich, of which there are plenty, can only be found by searching for the word "Blagojevich." And they all have a label on them reading:

"This submission was removed because people believe it is inappropriate."

The site's users have a right to vote up and vote down whatever they'd like. If Blago-related questions get voted down, or are out-voted by questions about stem cells and Constitutional safeguards, that's fine. But the transition should find a way to ensure that polite, reasonable questions about uncomfortable topics don't disappear from the radar because of the well-meaning but ultimately anti-democratic fervor of supporters.

Undemocratic? Excuse me guys, but the site is open to everyone, supporter or not. The fact is the only ones obsessed with Blago are the media and the GOP. The rest of us lowly hoi poloi really are "more substantively minded" and would prefer the questions be prioritized according to their actual importance. Blago is not Obama's problem, no matter how many pixels you waste in your single minded pursuit of the next ginned-up controversy.

And there's a simple way to prove it. The media sites could start their own pages, using the same format, where readers could weigh in on what stories they would like to see covered. I'm willing to bet that they would get the same result on Blagojevich.

The media needs to get a clue. Your industry is failing because nobody gives a flying leap about what you think is important. You've become just as removed from reality as the people you're supposed to be watchdogging. A little responsiveness to the public hunger for actual journalism from the all powerful elite media would go a long way towards restoring their rapidly waning credibility.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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